From NZ to London: Teaching Agencies

Agency Teachers

This kind of question is thrown around all the time and one I struggle to answer without an extended story. My experience of teaching agencies in London has been mixed. I hope this post can help at least one person to make more informed decisions. Furthermore, I’m not putting my experience out there to rag on particular agencies that I had negative experiences with. This is not a name and shame post – anyone who wants more information can DM me on twitter. However, I know if I had done more research and if I had read a story like this one, there are mistakes I would have avoided for sure. Bullet point advice at the bottom of the post.

Agency One

I came to London with one agency organised months in advanced and was spun a convincing story that they would be able to get me a permanent placement before I arrived. As D-day drew nearer I became increasingly concerned that no viable schools were on the table. The closest we got was a school in Canvey Island which is a 2 hour commute from central London. I was expecting to get at least a Skype interview before arriving in London, however, the only interview that eventuated from this agency was scheduled for two weeks into term with no work prospects before then. My response was to search for jobs myself and send them to this agencies saying ‘what about these?’ One of those turned into trial and a job offer. But after experiencing that school I turned it down for a range of reasons. It wasn’t right for me. The job interview that eventually came around was promising, but I wasn’t offered that position because I didn’t have enough UK experience. No further job interviews or opportunities came up before I left the agency a couple of weeks later.

I found this agency lacked relationships with London Secondary Schools. While I often want to support the little player – a agency without connections is not much use in this market. I found that their consultants to be inexperienced in education and were poor communicators. Furthermore, their lack of transparency around pay lead to massive complications and they were responsible for losing my DBS certificate which became vital later on down the line (and actually lost me a few days of work). It took four months to be paid for the two weeks of work I did with them. Throughout that time there was countless emails and answerphone messages. It took contacting the CEO to have the matter resolved and get the pay sent to me. I am still trying to get a pay receipt for that sum for tax purposes so the nightmare is still not over.

My next move was to sign up with multiple agencies. I contacted six over a weekend and started back to back meetings on Monday. By Tuesday I had signed up to three more agencies and the race was on.

Agency Two – ANZUK

I had a really positive experience with ANZUK. Their specialty is day-to-day supply and short term teaching placements for largely inexperienced teachers from Australia and NZ. I starting working for them only a day after our first face-to-face meeting (they fast-tracked my clearance) and their systems for on the day supply are exceptional. The communication is clear and they are connected to a large range of quality schools around London. They also host a range of events and this can be a great way of connecting with people in a similar situation. I did several one-off days at various schools with them and one four week placement. It wasn’t 100% positive: they did unprofessionally promote an umbrella company on me (more on this later), and I found the quality of their professional development fairly poor. It’s worth mentioning that this is the type of experience one can have when supply teaching, but I think there’s a lot to learn from this too.

Agency Three – SMART Teachers

I also signed up with SMART Teachers. Of all the introductory meetings and interviews with agencies I had, I was most impressed with Kayleigh from SMART teachers, she got me and my experience straight away and listened to me in a way that made me feel valued. I’m disappointed that I didn’t end up working with a school via this agency. They didn’t win the race, but I would have no hesitation in recommending this agency.

Agency Four

The last agency I signed up with ended up winning the race. They were connected to a school with a position that was a superb fit for me. I did a trial day, which quickly evolved into an interview and it was a done deal very quickly.

My first impressions of this agency were really strong. It was great at establishing a relationship that was personable and friendly. However, these first impressions didn’t last and things quickly fell apart. As the process went on, I felt increasingly uncomfortable about things I was told that turned out to be…shall we say…a stretch of the truth. The worst interactions came between the job offer and my acceptance of the job. Even though I owned the decision in the end and said yes on my terms, I still felt manipulated. Disappointingly, it was several months after I had started the job when the conditions of my acceptance actually all came through (this included salary, start date, and subjects I had agreed to teach). I am certain the agency is more at fault for this than the school. The money situation was the worst, as I was put in the uncomfortable position of being between what the school thought they had agreed to, and what I had agreed with the agency. We came to the right resolution, but I should never have been in that position. Finally, I found out from my HR department that they are one of the most expensive agencies the school has ever hired from. I did not feel good about this.

I would absolutely not recommend this agency as they also ended up owning me money that took over two months to settle. The kicker was after I sent my last polite email confirming that the money had arrived, the reply that came was:

Pleasure, the least I could do!

In Summary…

  • Sign up to multiple agencies. At least three. Each will have different contacts and relationships with different schools; it will maximise your chances of getting in the right school for you.
  • If possible, request a day of relief as an interview. It’s a much better way of getting a feel for a school and it offers the school a way of getting a feel for you. A trial lesson is fine, but it suits the school more than it suits you so keep that in mind.
  • On a related note, I never got my head around how to read a school from the outside. Some of the worst days teaching were at schools with the best online appearance. The only effective way of judging a school I found was spending a day on the ground.
  • Get your head around Umbrella Companies as soon as possible. It will come up. I believe that when you weigh it up, the benefits are largely the agencies, and you will be worse off. I felt forced into an umbrella company contract and had I been informed I would have not gone down this road.
  • Use email as much as possible and have all promises and agreements from the agencies in writing.

Back to the Chalkboard: Behaviour Management

In the past few weeks I have read a lot about behaviour management. As an experienced teacher in my 9th year of teaching I have become aware that I have coasted on strong relationships when it comes to behaviour management but now I have a real need to understand more about the science to be able to run an effective classroom. This blogpost is a summary of some of the key things I am now trying to embed in my practice.

The Right to Learn

This is a new way for me of framing the idea of rules. The idea of rules is stigmatising and distracting from effective teaching. From the Cult of Pedagogy, I discovered Michael Linsin, the founder of Smart Classroom Management, who framed rules as the following:

Rules protect the students right to learn and they protect the teacher’s right to teach

Co-constructing rules from a shared understanding of why they are needed changes the dynamic in the classroom. The primary purpose of being in the classroom is to learn and that needs to be understood by all for it to be an effective space for learning. I’ve found the assumption that the majority of students in London understand this underlying principle is not true – explicitly addressing ‘why are we here?’ is necessary.

Modelling Behaviour

Albert Bandura is a key contributor to the idea of Social Learning Theory which explores the idea that behaviour is a learning concept coming out of observation and imitating others. As a theory this is persuasive for me as it has made me consider how many opportunities there are for observational behavioural learning in contexts where poor behaviour is so frequent that it is almost always visible. Where is the opportunity to build and learn about self-efficacy in this system?

Linsin also has a solution for this and talks about modelling the expected behaviour in explicit detail. “You may bring a desk or a table up in front of your classroom, sit down, and pretend to be a student. You may have other students acting as models also. Show students how you expect them to behave while you’re giving instruction, and then how you expect them to behave when they’re doing independent work.” It’s important that the students see themselves in this activity, practice following the expectations and understand what not following these instructions does to the learning of the class. This process of modeling is outlined in this blogpost and this image:

Economy of Language

Something I think I’m guilty of is increasing the complexity of a instruction of explanation when it isn’t understood the first time. Doug Lemov in his book Teach Like a Champion talks about the economy of language: the fewer words you use, the clearer your message. The messages need to be direct, clear, and concise in order to maximise the response from the class. It’s one of those areas of teaching which can always be on the area for development list.

It’s the Teacher’s Fault

This is a hard one. I’ve carried a lot home over the past three months. I’ve undertaken some deep soul searching and experienced some dark moments. It’s because I reflect – I’ve been trained to reflect, to always gaze into my own actions. I process, and I believe it when I hear Linsin say the following:

When your students are, all of them or most of them, when they’re not doing something that you’ve previously taught them how to do, whether it’s talking or entering the classroom, and they don’t do it well, even though the students are responsible for their behaviour, when that happens, most of the class is not doing what you ask, it’s on you. It’s about you.

On top of this, it is hard not to be swept up by the media tornado looking to reposition teachers and the education system wherever it will sell more papers.

But then there is cognitive dissonance because I also know that I shouldn’t care when students’ misbehave. I know I am not responsible for the choices my students make. I know this. But when I am on the supply chain or teaching in a new school, applying consistent consequences is hard. Navigating the tension between owning the situation and letting go is tough.  But to be effective – it has to be done.

uLearn17 Preparation

In the past I’ve found it really useful to synthesise lots of information about the upcoming conference through preparing this kind of blogpost (see uLearn15 and uLearn16). It develops my prior knowledge giving me the opportunity to get more out of the conference. This is just a post to process some of the prior information about the keynotes and key threads to get me in the zone. I’m doing this in a self-beneficial way but something might be interesting here – the preparation for ulearn16 post that Anne Kenneally put together is a much better general audience resource.

Conference Themes

  • Connect: Sharing knowledge and ideas
  • Collaborate: Working together and developing relationships
  • Innovate: Innovation and sustainability

Conference Strands

  • Learning digitally / Te ako ā-matihiko
  • Learning in communities / Te ako ā-hapori
  • Learning for success / Te ako kia angitu


The four keynotes this year have a range of exciting topics and perspectives to share:

Eric Mazur – Innovating education to educate innovators

I will show how shifting the focus from delivering information to team work and creative thinking greatly improves the learning that takes place in the classroom and promotes independent thinking.

Eric Mazur has a long successful history of promoting ‘interactive teaching’ or ‘peer instruction’. His website contains some previous keynotes which all link back to these themes. He is part of a team that developed Learning Catalytics, “an interactive student response tool that encourages team-based learning by using students’ smartphones, tablets, or laptops to engage them in interactive tasks and thinking.” It would be great to see this approach modelled in a uLearn keynote!

Dr Ann Milne – Colouring in the white spaces: Cultural identity and community in whitestream schools

She will challenge us to find and reflect on the white spaces in our own thinking and practice, and to actively work towards changing them.

I had the pleasure of reading Dr Ann Milne‘s book “Coloring in the White Spaces: Reclaiming Cultural Identity in Whitestream Schools” recently and was absolutely blown again by the ideas in it. She talks extensively about colonisation, white privilege, systemic racism and has a very practical approach to changing things. The video below (plus a companion blogpost) and the her Q&A with Core Education give context to where Milne’s thinking is at. I’m expecting her keynote will lay down a real challenge to the NZ teaching profession.

Brad Waid – Engaging the globally connected student of today: A look at emerging technology, gaming and digital citizenship

Brad pushes us to look at the engaging factors students are faced with on a daily basis and how to leverage them in a learning context.

Brad Waid is a futurist with lots of experience with technology and education. His website shares some impressive achievements, recognising his leading thinking and ideas around technology and education integration. It is exciting for me to read about his interest in Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality as this year is the first time I’ve been exploring using immersive technologies in my Media Studies classroom. I’m interested in how his ideas might align or challenge Richard Watson’s book Digital Vs Human.

Abdul Chohan- Changing belief: Apple technology in the classroom

Abdul will discuss how the transformational redesign of learning with Apple technology has been essential for the success of every student and wider community.

The 4 minute video below captures Abdul Chohan’s educational perspective, which is clear through his journey of turning around ESSA Academy.  The story of what they achieved through mobile based learning is captured in this article and this conference presentation. To me the story speaks of the democratising power of technology and the importance of access in order to achieve equity. I’m interested in what angle Chohan brings to uLearn and how the story might be different for schools in 2017.


Personalised Learning – The Continuum of Choice


In reading this article on personalised learning trends, this graphic stood out. Originally introduced by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey, it presents the opportunity to reflect on where we are at on this continuum of choice. It got me thinking about my classroom design, and how we can evaluate not just individual lessons/classes, but also different parts of our practice:

  • Drama class: students are participants and occasionally designers
  • Media classes: students are co-designers at first, but upgrade to designers once the expectations are set up
  • Active Learning: they have the opportunity to be advocates and entrepreneurs
  • Deaning: provides students the opportunity to be an advocate, but historically would say I’ve treated the students as participants.
  • Leading Professional Learning: my colleagues are participants.

This graphic offers a really accessible visualisation of the role of the teacher in learning, and a way of creating meaningful goals and next steps. For instance, I think I can do a better job at leading professional leading whereby my colleagues become co-designers in my focus group. By giving the teachers a greater role in the group they will need to examine their purpose for learning more which will make the sessions more valuable. They can learn from experiencing this approach and potentially take it into their classrooms.

I would add that what I plan to do with this illustration is share it not just with colleagues, but also with students. It will help to communicate what I want from them and their learning and part of the ‘why‘ of what we are doing in the class. I feel transparency around the intentions of student-centred learning is essential to making it successful.

Professional Capital: Action Plan

51d5demgijl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Recently reading Fullen and Hargreaves superb book, Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School, which I blogged about yesterday, I was left with a call to action and plenty to reflect over. The final chapter of the book proposes guidelines for teachers to build their professional capital. This post contains my responses to those 10 ‘simplexic’ guidelines and action points for me to invest in for 2017.

1.  Become a true pro

I do not lack dedication; putting in more hours is a ridiculous goal. But I can examine what I do with those hours and reprioritise. Spending greater time investing in study, research and learning from colleagues while doing less on box ticking, administrative and tasks that don’t contribute to better learning for my students is an achievable goal.

2. Start with yourself: examine your own experience

Is what I am doing truly working? How do I know? To be more effective I need to open up more channels of feedback so that I’m more aware of the impact I’m having on learners.

3. Be a mindful teacher

Practicing mindfulness is a vital next step for managing my own commitment and passion. This will help to build open-mindedness, defeat bias and monitor well-being. “Be mindful. Begin with yourself” (157). I’ve started exploring using the mindfulness apps headspace and calm.

4. Build your human capital through social capital

To address this challenge I need to value my wider group of colleagues more. It’s clear I have a core group of similar page (echo-chamber?) peers who I engage regularly in conversations with; but the wider staffroom has considerable resources in it that I’m not tapping into. The lunch table is a social capital opportunity.

Furthermore, while attending professional learning opportunities with colleagues outside of school happens regularly, continuation of those conversations into action rarely occurs. An effort to apply what was learnt collectively and collaborate on initiatives is a feasible goal.

5. Push and pull your peers

Improved communication helps build respect, trust and space to make change. “Don’t be shy about initiating a conversation about what it means to teach like a pro” (158).

6. Invest in and accumulate your decisional capital

Only through time and reflection can deicisional capital – being able to make very good judgement about teaching and learning – develop. Extending your sphere of influence is essential to developing capital. As is being open to give and receive feedback.

7. Manage up: help your leaders be the best they can be

I have found this guideline difficult to understand. On the one hand it seems to encourage empathy, but then it also encourages taking charge. I think the balance comes by having rationale and reasoned responses to management that develop partnership and collaboration.

8. Take the first step

Ask for help and model needing support before expecting others to seek assistance.

9. Surprise yourself

Go outside the box, innovate, seek out variety and connect outside your comfort zone.

10. Connect everything back to your students

Teaching like a pro is about “developing your own capability, enlarging your professional community, and increasing your capacity to benefit the learners you will touch in the future” (163). It’s all about the students. Ensure they are central to every conversation. Focus on the benefit to them. Make sure they are at the centre of everything you do.

Fullan, M. & Hargreaves, A. (2012) Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School. New York: Teachers College Press.

Evaluation of Multi-Level Media

This post is a chance to collate a lot of complex thinking around how my multi media studies class ran this year. The purpose is to evaluate and reflect with a focus on next steps for developing the course.

I proposed a multi level media course last year, which manifested as two 31-33 classes with a fairly even mixture of Y12 and Y13 students in both. I developed an approach to the course by moving away from the Achievement Standard and looking at the core curriculum seeds from which assessment could grow. I was looking for the core concepts and learning objectives that had commonalities between the year groups. I developed a plan which saw the year split into three areas:

  • Production
  • Genre
  • Research

Each of these areas had specific curriculum links to focus on during these thirds of the year, and potential achievement standards that students could opt into.course-outline

According to Hipkins, Sheehan and Johnston “standards are not…designed to be treated as a basis for time-bounded, sequential teaching units” (46, 2016). They suggest that courses structured by chunks of Achievement Standards typically contain problems of fragmentation. Their suggestion is to compile a comprehensive compilation of what is worth learning for each curriculum area and design courses from that.

The delivery of this course was a big shift as well. My planning was around identifying the key concepts or key learning that needed to take place for success in each standard to meet – stripping the multiple week units I had taught in the past right back to their core. I split these learning topics over the course of weeks, attempting to create one idea or topic per lesson. Given the design of this course has student agency at its heart, I never made teacher time compulsory. Learning outlines were shared and students could opt in to taking part in the tutorial-type structure which left me working with a small group in a teacher directed way. To support this structure resources were developed for each learning area to guide students through in a self directed way. To develop this I need to:

  • Create student opportunities to run tutorials with peers
  • Refine the approach to the breakdown of the course so that tutorial time is effective
  • Develop the self directed resources to further emphasise learning, not assessment.

To support this, students were put into critical quartets (groups of four sometimes five multi-level with a range of individual needs). Each week we would have 10 minutes for each group to discuss three or four reflective questions:

  1. Share one piece of significant learning for you in the past week.
  2. Check assessment plan together. Outline what you are doing for each piece of assessment for the remainder of the year.
  3. How can your learning be supported for the rest of the year?

The purpose of such a time was to focus on the principles of the class which I regularly articulated:

  • Ako – grounded in the principle of reciprocity
  • Collaboration – learning together
  • Reflection – engaging in continuous learning
  • Whanaungatanga – positive relationships
  • Me Whakamatau – work had to achieve together

Hand ins for assessment were not as naturally occurring as I would like, but an improvement from my approach in 2015. I had a go at zero deadlines last year with mixed success. While I feel that achieved some deep personal learning for a number of students, I didn’t really have the data to be able to continue with that approach. Students that we would not typically define as ‘high achieving’ struggled and administration of this approach proved challenging.

This year I set up four deadlines across the year. For each one a student needed to submit one assessment. This effectively reduced the amount of credits in the course (although students were welcome to submit additional assessments, although only seven students across the two classes took up the option). The following statistics capture the picture at the time of writing:

  • Prior to external assessment (where additional credits could be gained) the average number of credits per student were
    • 10.4 credits – line one
    • 10.1 credits – line two
  • When outliers are removed (i.e. international students not working towards NCEA, students that did not engage due to horrific absences) the averages were:
    • 10.7 credits – line one
    • 11.4 credits – line two
  • When broken down between Y12 and Y13 the difference is clear. Reflecting the difference between the uptake in the external and :
    • Y12 – 10.9 credits
    • Y13 – 13.2 credits

Overall, this credit attainment is lower overall than previous years. When there was a structured course design Y12 contained 17 internal credits and Y13 contained 16 internal credits. More student choice has led to less overall credits. More analysis needs to take place of the level of achievement gained as my hypothesis is that less coverage has led to deeper content – and therefore an increase in the number of Merits and Excellences.

However, more pressing is the consideration of whether this course design has led to deeper learning in terms of the vision of the school and the front half of the curriculum. In terms of data to measure this, firstly, I have taken surveys of the students throughout the year to self reflect on the development of their understanding and application of the key competencies. This data can be built on when gathered next year after implementing those key next steps.

Furthermore, student voice has been gathered which capture some of the perspectives of the class. These quotes firstly establish the positives of this approach:

Having a choice with what internals to do and when to do them by was a very important learning step for me. I feel it got me prepared for the mindset and the self motivation skills I will need next year at university. In saying that, it was fairly difficult to get into the habit of this especially since it was the first year where we really got a choice on what we do.

There shouldn’t be any boundaries with learning and I think that everyone should be able to study together, it lets people connect and share more ideas with each other no matter the age or year difference.

It worked good because being self directed meant I set more goals

I think this has worked for me in a way where I got to get into discussions with peers that I otherwise wouldn’t talk to, especially with the discussion opportunities. The classroom being an overall friendly environment that allows growth has helped me a lot with my learning and understanding.

And these perspectives offer some insight into the challenges going forward:

I thought that this was good for my learning becaue it meant I could do things I enjoyed and was interested in but I think I would have benefitted from some more structured lessons around how to do certain things.

I didn’t particularly enjoy having a mixed class were everyone was doing different stuff. I’m not very good at working in an environment that is not teacher directed. I did however enjoy when we did class discussions.

At first I was lost and didn’t know what I was meant to do / what I was doing. Even when I was giving help I never really understood what I was still supposed to do.

My interest here is in the difference between what I thought I was doing and how what I was doing was seen by the students. There is plenty of feedback here to keep developing my approach. I believe the core data here speaks to a continuation of the principles of the class, but refinement of the method.

The Teaching and Tracking of Key Competencies

Over the course of the year I took the approach of measuring key competencies and collecting data on the development of key competencies. This was a consequence of my inquiry into how much my teaching was focused on assessment rather than learning. The importance is captured by this idea straight from the NZ Curriculum:

Key competencies matter because they support dispositions that will enable young people to learn well now, and to go on learning throughout their lives.

The approach I took was to include more explicit teaching of key competencies in my teaching and to have students complete three self-assessment surveys that asked them to rate themselves (a general question – problematic in retrospect, but still gives usable data), share an example of where a key competency was applied, and finally set a goal for the next term around the development of that key competency. The data has allowed me to reflect on this area of my teaching and develop an action plan for taking this area further.


The data here shows an increase across the year, but a curious drop off in term three and four. This is reflected in the other key competencies, and I would suggest both the increase in sample size (in term two the motivated students were more likely to complete the survey) and the nature of the school year, whereby by term three many realise they have achieved their goals/the necessary credits and therefore coast to the end of the year. I found this a problematic part of such a student centred course, as self motivation was key to success – but I don’t feel like I explicitly addressed this enough.

The shift in the written responses provided some interesting insight. Some of the responses in term one represented some quite basic understanding of the idea of thinking as a key competency:

Thinking skills like guessing what people are saying? Yeah i use it all the time.

I used thinking skills when I was developing the concept: I wanted the concept to be entertaining to the audience and spark a conversation about genders, this meant that I needed thinking skills to make these work together.

It took me a while to think and come up with an idea and then develop it.

But later in the year it was clear this understanding had developed as more insightful and reflective responses suggested a deeper understanding of this key competency:

I was able to look at topics and go beyond what was there to reach a higher level of thinking.

I particularly remember the time while talking about Modern Family and Mr Cargill went and flipped perspectives on the show. This was a light bulb moment on how there are always two sides to each perspective and something to discuss in between too.

Throughout term 3 and 4 I have tried to extend my thinking to the wider world and incorporate these ideas into my assessments and general thinking when I approach something. Not just thinking about passing or in the moment but the further thinking and effects.

Critical thinking was a focus of term three whereby I would often assume the role of devil’s advocate or mediate a debate with the class on a contentious topic or issue.

Using Language, Symbols and Texts

This was generally a key competency that the students struggled to understand. Over the course of the year, this increased in the sense that a connection was made between this competency and expressing knowledge and understanding. This led to one reflective response that I found interesting:

Using the correct terms and skills when it comes to external and internal assessments. I understand and know the skills I’m just not distributing it in the right places

This captures the concept of communication as multi-faceted. This student is reflecting on the fact that they understand the ideas that they wish to communicate but that the representation of their ideas did not meet their level of understanding.

To develop this area further I think I need to take more explicit steps around teaching this area for students to be able to recognise the learning they have developed in this area. They have all learnt about visual storytelling, as well as communication in media form (as I would estimate 90% of them have submitted an assessment using a blog or weebly etc.) They have all developed writing skills as well with the concentration of conveying higher order thinking and learning new terminology a regular focus. But all this needs to be explicitly conveyed to the students.

Managing Self

This represents the same trend of improvement, but no significant shifts to speak of. The agentic style of the course has offered the chance for students to reflect on how they approach this aspect of their personal development:

This term I learnt from my mistakes where I started my assessments earlier

I set mini deadlines for my film production that I could make.

My self management was extremely poor in term one, hardly doing any work at home and talking off topic in class.

This gave them the opportunity to identify areas of growth. These included:

I am hoping to keep a consistent and balanced workload throughout the term for the future assessments so that I can do my best work.

I should probably get feedback from the teacher if i’m unsure about something because he has a different view on things.

I hope to possess more self motivation to complete tasks earlier in order to be highly successful.

However, the question that remains for me, is while I am giving them the opportunity to self-manage, how do I ensure as a teacher that they are maximising their learning from this opportunity? I’m absolutely sure I haven’t got the balance between freedom to delve and checkpoints to conform right and I know that this balance needs to be differentiated from student to student.

Relating to Others

This competency shows a visible shift. The main focus for this year was about capitalising on the multi-level aspect of the class using the principles of ako, collaboration, reflection, whanaungatanga, and me whakamatau.  This manifested in weekly critical quartet times where the students were organised into groups to reflect on prior learning and use each others experience to develop deeper understanding and outcomes. During this time I was able to observe the groups and their dialogue and support them in developing skills around how to navigate a deeper discussion through asking questions and promoting opportunities to contribute. This was reflected in the comments:

I related to others I don’t really talk to when we had our critical quartet sessions.

I applied these skills in our critical quartets where we helped each other develop some ideas and give feedback.

In my creative quarters I was put with people I wouldn’t normally communicate with and I talked to them about my script and my opinions and problems I have/will encounter during the production of it.

There were further efforts to create a collective environment where the priciples of ako were visible, but I don’t know that I could claim that I’ve truly capitalised on the potential of this. I am considering how to further integrate the year groups so that there are more opportunities to develop skills for this competency. From quartets to trios? Or learning peers? Finding more connections between the learning areas or more cross content? More student voice operating in a teaching capacity? These thoughts need further exploration.

Participating and Contributing

I tend to frame active involvement in the community as participating in the online global community. For this media studies course this usually meant creating work that contributed to the online knowledge economy or creative products that could achieve a wide audience. Like using language, symbols and texts I don’t believe I explicitly taught this skills well enough for this feedback to provide much insight. Some interesting comments did emerge:

Unfortunately my contributions community wise have been low with my film not being up to par, not attending 48hrs and in my opinion my learning and work as a whole have not come been up to anything notable which for me being a person with high hopes in this industry is a little bit of a bummer.

Having to actually avoid saying too much in class, because it’s more so for the people who don’t understand it. By myself answering so much, it doesn’t become as beneficial to those who don’t understand it.

I have really tired to voice more of my opinions and contribute

These responses (and many others in a similar style) show that clearly the explicit teaching was missing, but also that there are interesting student assumptions in play. It is worth considering how the students value knowledge and contribution of knowledge – and then how to shift this to something that is more valuable to them as lifelong learners.

Overall, collecting this data has been highly valuable, but next year some changes I need to investigate to develop my teaching in this area include:

  • Integrate more explicit teaching of the competencies into my class design
  • Use the data proactively throughout the year to address individual learning needs
  • Integrate the key competency self-review process with the critical quartets (or whatever system that might look like next year)
  • Review the gathering of quantitative data on key competencies – at the very least I need to rephrase my questioning.
  • Inquiry into self motivation – by following through on 2016’s goal.

2016 Goal Setting

2016 Goal: to develop the learning agency of students with low self-management and low self-efficacy. 

Historical Position

  • Increasingly aware of the need to explicitly teach core skills such as the key competencies and the habits of mind. The cynic in me believes that the students that already have strong self efficacy pick up on these skills naturally when given the right environment. This is often what I get measured on because these students demonstrating these skills are often visible.
  • Self-directed units of work have become more and more frequent in my classes. Last year I pushed this to new levels in having students create and pursue their own courses in Level Three Media. A student captured what this was like in this write up.
  • 2016 is seeing my Media classes attempt a multi-level structure, which will be unit based, but with opt-in class time and opt-in assessments (with four set due dates for the whole class).
  • I want my students to have a high degree of agency, be in charge of their learning and make good choices. I believe in giving them the space to do these things, and having reflective processes in place so that we can learn from them. I have observed though that historically I don’t make significant shifts with the students with the weakest levels of self-efficacy and motivation. Two students last year only achieved 6 credits, and one achieved none in a course where they were given the power to act. In interviewing them at the end of the year I still didn’t feel they had gained much knowledge into how they learn, and therefore the approach of the course simply wasn’t valuable for them.

Action and Next Steps

  • Identify five students for a focus group to track and work with through the year. Each of these five students have low rate of participation in self-motivated tasks as observed in term one. The table below captures a snapshot of these five students. They represent a range of ethnic groups (including Pasifika and Maori) and are all boys which aligns with a our school goals of increasing achievement for these groups.


  • With these five students I’ll run an individual discussion with each of them to explain what I’m focusing on this year. I’ll then give them a formative survey to collect some data about where they see themselves in relation to some specific skills. Something I’ll repeat later in the year to measure shifts. Then I plan to run focus lunches where I’ll bring the students together to talk about agency and learning and co-construct interventions for us to follow through with.
  • Explicitly teach key competencies, self-efficacy, growth mindset, and the habits of mind. I say this often, but I don’t often talk about how. It’s on the list for a future blogpost.
  • Look into current research into motivation and ways to build agency. As a starting point, here are some gems from this post on cult of pedagogy:

What studies suggest motivates students:

  1. Students are more motivated academically when they have a positive relationship with their teacher
  2. Choice is a powerful motivator in most educational contexts.
  3. For complex tasks that require creativity and persistence, extrinsic rewards and consequences actually hamper motivation.
  4. To stay motivated to persist at any task, students must believe they can improve in that task.
  5. Students are motivated to learn things that have relevance to their lives.

Six reasons for motivation deficit:

  1. The student is unmotivated because he or she cannot do the assigned work.
  2. The student is unmotivated because the ‘response effort’ needed to complete the assigned work seems too great.
  3. The student is unmotivated because classroom instruction does not engage.
  4. The student is unmotivated because he or she fails to see an adequate pay-off to doing the assigned work.
  5. The student is unmotivated because of low self-efficacy—lack of confidence that he or she can do the assigned work.
  6. The student is unmotivated because he or she lacks a positive relationship with the teacher.

Finally, this approach is connected strongly to our school’s vision (below) and placing students’ at the centre of their learning. I hope tat I will be able to understand more about low self-efficacy learners and develop more successful ways of helping them this year, and in the years to come.


2015 Goal Reflection

In 2015 my focus was to redesign 3MED as a student-centred course. This was a tangible, measurable goal that was closely connected to my wider focus around my teaching as being learning focused, not assessment driven.

A student-voice post from last year captured many aspect of the class – as does many planning documents including a slightly cringe worthy attempt at capturing the course in a letter I wrote and emailed to all students at the beginning of the year. The measurable outcomes suggest I was successful. All students recorded an improvement in their self-motivation and self-management skills. Personally I averaged less than 5 minutes at the front of the class for the entire year. And results wise were comparable to previous years.

However, the class culture was more favoured by students than the learning outcomes. They noted that they enjoyed the class but didn’t feel like they learnt a lot from it. This might reflect that the skills they were developing are part of the hidden curriculum and therefore less accessible for their own reflection. However, I agree that the learning wasn’t as strong as it could have been. The tutorial structure didn’t work as well as I hoped and the collaboration that I envisioned never really manifested.

The next steps are bringing the momentum that I have begun in this class to the multi level combined 2MED/3MED classes I have this year. Some of the strategies I have begun to explore to address what happened last year:

  • Formalised tutorial plan co-constructed with the students – every class has a teacher-directed offering that the students have control over what it is.
  • Collaborative critical quartets – assigned groups that check in once a week for reflective conversations about what is going on.
  • Four set deadlines throughout the year – however, student choice enables the to decide what they submit for each of these checkpoints.

Stay tuned for more reflection on the progress!

Team Teaching in a MLE

A couple of months ago we were visited by Cashmere Ave School to talk about the team taught MLE that was initiated this year – here were some notes I scrambled down on the day:

  • Authentic learning, collaboration, agency, use of ICT, space, role of the teacher, metacognition – “Making our way in the world”.
  • Integrated reflective practice – metacognitive process the students having a voice in where they are going and what they are doing.
  • Conversations are being generated by the students with a learning focus because of the environment of collaboration. Team teaching.
  • Flipped classroom – changing the role of the teacher
  • Philosophy underpinning how the space is designed – not enough desks for everybody…

Yesterday, I visited the beautiful Cashmere Ave School to see the environment in action. It was the first time I’ve been to a Primary School for a while and quite a reminder of days gone by to see a space without loads of desks in rows or groups, but more a space that caters for a range of learning approaches. There were endless displays on the wall that were all interesting with significant connections to what was currently going on in the class, or what learning has been done. Bean bags and different seating options were available in lots of different places with groups set up in some corners and high table options as well. The students found other spaces too – some sitting in the corridor and others reacquiring the netbook box as a table.

We observed the class in action for just over an hour and saw the remarkable way that the class systems had been formed. The focus was maths and the 35 mins slot had been split into three with students either told to attend workshops to address pre-identified gaps in their learning, or select a learning activity like “workbook” or “mathletics”. The student knew they had quantity work expectations which were reviewed briefly in reflective questions at the end of the activity. The way the time was spent was recorded on laminated cards with non-permanent markers, so that the format could be reused for other blocks in the timetable.

The transitions and structure was so incredibly well organised with a team spirit very clear from the way that everyone knew where they needed to be and students became behaviour managers as well through reminding others in the class to get to what they needed to be doing. Everything was chunked so there was never more than 12-15mins in one place which kept the students moving, focused, engaged and active.

The reason for seeing the class was more of a general interest than a specific idea about how it could benefit my practice. However, now that I’ve seen the environment in action – now that I’ve been to education utopia – there are some key takeaways:

  • The importance of tying things back into the curriculum – I have to get back into the Media Studies curriculum and making that visible in my classroom. Assessment remains the driver and I need to be more active in pushing the learning that underpins it. Using the learning to engage not the credits. This might look like: wall displays showing the key areas of Media Studies; learning intentions that refer back to A.O.s instead of the AS; regular articulation of the learning links.
  • Self-Directed Chunking – self-direction in my classroom often relies on the student to chunk their own time within the space that is given to them. This wasn’t the approach in this classroom. The chunking was part of the planning – giving the students control over their activities but keeping them moving between them. There seems to be huge value in this. I’ll need to look into what this might look like in my context.
  • Learning over Assessment – back to my goal of 2015 looking at how I can promote authentic learning above the rigors of meeting assessment requirements. In the Cashmere Ave MLE, intrinsic motivation was very high as students learnt for the love of learning (although some talked a lot about their desire to reach Stage 6). The teacher talk was very much based in learning – something I’m continuing to work on.
  • Learning Environment – everything about the space was created for the students to be used by the students. There was no teacher desk, no teacher focused areas. The flexibility allowed students to work in different ways and in ways that met their needs. Back to attempting to shift things again in Media….

This was a super opportunity to expand my understanding of teaching and learning and look into a context significantly removed from my own. Still buzzing.